by Emery ’17, Isabel ’17, Ivy ’17, Anisha ’18 and May ’18

A WMHS student presents the article from The Atlantic that the class analyzed. The students explained their analysis of the article, then asked women and men who work in the technology industry about their experiences.

In the 11th and 12th-grade Humanities class, we read the article, “Why is Silicon Valley So Awful to Women?” by Liza Mundy, which was published in the April edition of The Atlantic. This article was about issues that specifically pertain to the treatment and representation of women in the tech industry, how they are commonly addressed, the shortcomings of those tactics, and new ways to deal with the problems that are just now being introduced. The author provides many examples of the experiences of various women—particularly ones who have now reached high-ranking positions at their respective companies, but still face gender discrimination. The article delves into several specific challenges facing these and other women, such as a low percentage of women being hired because of bias in hiring practices, not being taken seriously because of their gender, and being faced with sexist/discriminatory behavior, including harassment. It discusses a solution that many companies have adopted called unconscious-bias training, which helps people recognize the biases they weren’t aware they had, so they can work to overcome them. However, it then brings up the flaws with this approach, particularly normalizing bias without addressing it. The author concludes by discussing new methods that are coming into play to prevent bias through structural changes in hiring practices, such as checklists for evaluating candidates based off of skills, and bonuses for meeting diversity goals.

This article is, first and foremost, an argument piece, not an expository one. The author has clearly taken a stance, and is working to support that argument all throughout the article. This can especially be seen in certain segments of writing where her voice is made apparent. Liza Mundy’s central argument is that not enough women are getting involved in the tech industry, and that the ones who are involved are leaving quite quickly because of multifarious issues in tech culture. Some of her sub-arguments describe multiple instances of outright hostility from men toward women, women being easily dismissed and disrespected by men, and of men communicating implicitly or explicitly the idea that genius is a male trait. Most of these points are backed up with references to previous studies, such as the ‘Elephant in the Valley’ survey, and quotes from prominent CEOs of both genders, although Mundy does make some claims without citing a source, such as her argument that women are hired in lower numbers than men and leave at twice the rate men do. As for counter-arguments, the author does provide information or a point of view that counters what was said previously, but this only serves to further her main argument. Dissenting points of view are not seen within this article. Ultimately, while the author does make convincing points and typically provides information to back those points up, there are rare occasions where a source is not evident, and the author has nothing regarding statements or facts that counter their main argument. This means that the argument is already strong, but could see improvement.

To analyze the strength of this article, we also looked at how it was written, using what we have been learning about rhetoric and uses of language. Overall, we said that it was a well-written piece, as it was well-structured, engaging, and thorough. It was fairly conversational in the way it was written, and though sometimes it slipped to being slightly too informal, for the most part it was written in a style that worked very well. Mundy used anecdotes from various women in tech to drive her argument, and also included information from various studies. Occasionally those seemed like they could use more context, such as when discussing the implicit bias test, but for the most part were clear and effective. We did think that the author’s tone could detract from the credibility of the argument being made, or drive away some people from reading the article. The main flaw we saw was that though Mundy often made good use of irony, she also occasionally became unnecessarily sarcastic. For example, when discussing how in Norway they have actual quotas for percentage of women that must be in various positions, she says “qualified women have been found and the Earth has continued turning.”(73) We thought that this was not needed, and that for some people, it might seem mocking or overly confrontational. Another element that we thought might be challenging for some was that there were occasional references thrown in that not everyone would necessarily understand, such as to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers (a comparison for a women doing everything a man is doing but with additional challenges thrown in). Nonetheless, despite having some flaws, we did think it was a well-written and compelling article.

After reading the article, we assessed its Ethos, or credibility, by researching the author’s background and that of the people she interviewed. Liza Mundy works for the think tank New America, which states on their website that it is dedicated to solving public problems through work in technology, politics, and policy, and connects a diverse range of people of various domains in order to achieve that goal. In particular she works in New America’s Better Life Lab, which works on issues specifically pertaining to gender equality and the changing society as women become a greater part of the workforce. With her background, she seems well qualified to write an article on the treatment of women in the technology industry, while not coming from a place of working at one of the major industries discussed, which would give her a potential for bias. We found that the women Liza Mundy interviewed were also highly qualified, tended to have experience working at large technology companies, and seemed to be reliable. For example, Shelley Correll was identified in the article as “the faculty director of the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford”. After further research, we found that not only is she a professor of sociology at Stanford who specializes in gender, workplace dynamics, and organizational culture, but she has also received national awards for her research and written multiple books. When further researched, all of the people who were interviewed, as well as Liza Mundy herself, proved to be highly reputable sources. From this, we have concluded that the credibility of the article is strong.

Upon completing our discussion of the article, we were asked to each write our individual responses to it—essentially, the thoughts and feelings—emotions—that arose for us. These are communicated below.

Emery: I had already known about workplace discrimination in the tech industry, and how that was becoming a serious problem, but this article helped reinforce awareness of the troubles of the situation for me. Though I am not necessarily interested in going into a tech field later in life, this article has helped me be aware of what I might encounter in college and beyond. It was also useful to learn about the various anti-bias apps and sites, and I look forward to seeing how they resolve hiring issues in the future.

Anisha: I thought that the article was interesting and covered an important and troubling topic. It was not an issue I had been completely unaware of, but I had not thought about it as in-depth as in the article, and I had not heard of the different apps or tactics used to try to counteract bias. I also hadn’t quite realized the scope of the problem, and a lot of what we read, especially about how careful women had to be with every aspect of how they acted and dealt with harassment, was disturbing and somewhat horrifying. Because computer science and math are among my interests, this article definitely brought up some important things to think about.

Ivy: I found this article to be at once informative and verifying prior knowledge that I have of the subject. The fact that this issue is still so prevalent, and often badly dealt with, is something I find both frustrating and dismaying. As a woman interested in STEM, I think it is important to be well informed on what I may be going into, even if that situation is disheartening due to the lack of progress, and distressing, particularly with the levels of sexual harassment that still seem to be common.

Isabel: The idea put forth in this article, that of gender discrimination in the workplace, was one I was already familiar with to an extent. I had known about the pay gap between women and men, and had been keeping up with recent workplace scandals such as the controversy around Kay Jewellers; however, this article illuminated a section of this bias I had not explored in depth before, which I appreciated.

The high school students invited technology professionals, both men and women, to discuss the issues of gender equity in that industry.

May: I think that this article was interesting and was about something I never considered before. I don’t generally think about technology or human inequality in general in my everyday life because I am fairly sheltered, making this topic new to me. I know that there has been inequality, but I mostly considered it history with the African slave trade and women fighting for the right to vote. I never even considered that women don’t have equal rights in the tech field in the United States. It’s sad really, considering the 19th amendment gave women equal rights as men, and women today not being allowed to have those rights really surprised me. In the future, I want to learn if this is a more widely known issue and what more can be done to help these women in this industry.

In sum, all of us in the 11th and 12th-grade classes found the topic of Liza Mundy’s April Atlantic article, “Why is Silicon Valley So Awful to Women” to be interesting, important, and troubling. Many of us were aware, to some extent, of the situation prior to reading the article, but it did add to what we already knew. For others, this information was almost entirely new. Either way, we found it gave us something to think about and is a topic that we would like to explore further. A couple of us are interested in going into STEM, so this article felt particularly relevant to us and our consideration of what we will do in the future.